Alleged land purchase by ex-monk in spotlight

Alleged land purchase by ex-monk in spotlight

Ex-monk Sompong Nakhonthaisong poses for a photo in his native province of Chaiyaphum last month. (Photo from his Facebook page)
Ex-monk Sompong Nakhonthaisong poses for a photo in his native province of Chaiyaphum last month. (Photo from his Facebook page)

Activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, on Wednesday petitioned the director-general of the Royal Forestry Department to expedite an investigation into an alleged land purchase by former monk Sompong Nakhonthaisong and his relatives.

The petition cited the Royal Forestry Department chief's order for officials to investigate reports that Mr Sompong, formerly a popular preacher of Dhamma, had purchased about 300 rai of Sor Por Kor land, which is reserved for agricultural reform, in Khon San district of Chaiyaphum province.

Officials from the Nakhon Ratchasima-based Forest Resource Management Office 8 found that the land in question was formerly designated Sor Por Kor land by the Agricultural Land Reform Office. Since the land was not suitable for agriculture it had been returned to the Royal Forestry Department.

Six of the 11 blocks, or about 200 of the 300 rai, were found to be inside Phu Sam Phak Nam National Forest Reserve in Khon San district. Rubber trees had been planted on the land, for which there were no title deeds or any other ownership documents.

Preparations had been made to give some of the land to landless people under the land allotment programme of the National Land Policy Committee (NLPC).

The land reform office is already investigating the matter.

According to Mr Srisuwan, it was obvious that the land acquired by the family of the ex-monk was outside the area designated Sor Por Kor land under an executive decree of 1988. The land in question was more likely part of Phu Sam Phak Nam National Forest Reserve, which had been heavily encroached on.

The Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, therefore, wanted the Royal Forestry Department to conduct a thorough examination of the land in question and take punitive action against anyone found to have encroached on the land in violation of Sections 14 and 31 of the National Forest Reserve Act of 1964.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said in response to Mr Srisuwan's petition that he had been told that the land in question was inside the forest reserve and a part of it had been designated for allotment under a programme of the National Land Policy Committee (NLPC).

He said it was not yet clear who had managed to occupy or own the land.

The investigation was still ongoing and the Royal Forestry Department would take legal action against whoever was found to have violated the laws for illegal land grabbing, Mr Varawut said.

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